Amanda Ray, Hero of a New Work-in-Progress by Pat Bertram

Bertram: I can’t get into writing your story. You’re nothing special, just a woman grieving. Boring.

Amanda: Sam thinks I’m special and unique.

Bertram: Who’s Sam?

Amanda: Don’t you know?

Bertram: Of course I know. I created him. I just wondered if you knew.

Amanda: I know he’s a special man. We met online at a support group for people whose mates are dying of cancer. His wife and David—my husband—were both told they had three to six months to live. Having something so real to talk about cut through all the usual crap people go through when the meet, even online, so we got to know each other very quickly. And we fell in love. Took us both by surprise. Neither of us were looking for that, and we didn’t know you could develop such powerful feelings without ever having met.

Bertram: What happened to Sam’s wife?

Amanda: She rallied. Is in remission right now. Still not well, but doesn’t seem to be terminal. Sam is staying with her. We want to get together, but he lives halfway across the country. In Ohio. I need so much to feel his arms around me. I am stunned by the depth of my grief for David. I thought I was over him—he took such a long time to die, you see. Over a year. I thought I’d finished with my grief and moved on, but when he died, it felt as if I were dying, too. If I didn’t love Sam, I couldn’t have gone on.

Bertram: I don’t understand how you can love one man while mourning another.

Amanda: I don’t understand it either. Sam says I’m a complicated woman. He says that there’s a part of me that will always belong to him, a part David never knew. Apparently I need to men to fulfill me. Yet here I am . . . alone. And grieving.

Bertram: What part belongs to Sam?

Amanda: The passionate part. I always thought I was a passionless woman—I’d have to be, being David’s wife. He wasn’t much for sex. I think it had something to do with his childhood, something that happened to shape his life, but he never talked about it. I’ll find out, though—it’s important to the story. See, when I find out that he’s different from the man I knew, then I panic and wonder who I am. For most of my adult life, I defined myself by my relationship with him. He gave my life focus and meaning. Which is why finding out the truth about Davis is important. I need to know who he is so I can find out who I am.

Bertram: And who are you?

Amanda: I don’t know. Isn’t that your job, to create me?

Bertram: I was hoping you’d do it for me. Writers always talk about how their characters take over and do things they never intended. It’s never happened to me, but I thought this time would be different.

Amanda: Different? How?

Bertram: Because you’re me. Well, not all of it—the character of a grieving woman is based on me since I know grief only from my point of view. But the story is not my story. I mean, it is my story since I’m writing it, but the story I’m writing is not the story of my life. That part is made up, though I’m hoping some deeper truth will emerge.

Amanda: What sort of truth?

Bertram: Hey! Who’s the interviewer here? I’m the one supposed to be asking the questions.

Amanda: But you’re the one with the answers. So how can you be the one asking the questions? And anyway, you’re evading the issue. What sort of truth are you looking for?

Bertram: The true sort. The universal sort. Something that will mean something different to everyone who sees it.

Amanda: Clear as bell.

Bertram: Good thing you’re not a writer. Clichés are so passé. But we’re getting off course here. Will people believe that a grieving woman can love another? Won’t they think that love negates grief?

Amanda: Seems like it’s your responsibility as a writer to make people believe it.

Bertram: So that brings us back to the original problem. You’re boring. How do I make you interesting? I mean, you sound like a whiner in the book, always screaming, “I can’t do this!”

Amanda: But if you notice (and you should since you’re the one who wrote it) every time I say I can’t do something, I do it. As you keep stressing, in the book, I don’t know who I am. Even though I’m in my fifties (cripes, couldn’t you have made me forty-something? Fifty sounds so old) I’m in a chrysalis. I’ve lived a lot of years, but never LIVED. I’ve defined myself by other people, and now that David’s gone, I need to learn how to define myself by myself. To find my home within me since David’s death stole my home from me. He was my home, not the parsonage we lived in for the past fifteen years. I have to leave the parsonage, too, because the church is selling it.

Bertram: I never asked you if you wanted to be a preacher’s wife. Would you rather be a different character? A cop, perhaps, or a CEO?

Amanda: Don’t know what I want to be. Isn’t that the point of the story? For me to find out what who I am and what I want to be? A coming-of-age-in-middle-age story? For that purpose, a preacher’s wife is as good as anything. Also could explain why she led such a cloistered life. A CEO probably wouldn’t have defined her life by her husband’s. A preacher’s wife, by definition, defines her life by his.

Bertram: I just thought of something: how about if I make you the preacher?

Amanda: Nope, it wouldn’t work story-wise. I wouldn’t get kicked out of the parsonage when David died, I wouldn’t be defining my life by his, and I probably wouldn’t have time to have an online affair. Until David got sick and was forced into idleness, he never had much time. He spent time with our daughter Thalia, for which I’m thankful. She loved him very much, though she doesn’t seem to be grieving. But perhaps she has less to grieve for. She’s a grown woman with a life of her own, so she’s not panicking about growing old without him, or worrying about money, or any of the other things that go along with grief. But everyone’s grief is different. Also, she feels betrayed—apparently she knew I was having a cyber affair. She doesn’t understand how I could do such a thing while David was dying. Heck, I don’t understand it. Can you explain it to me?

Bertram: Perhaps you were at a vulnerable time, grasping at life any way you could. Perhaps you needed someone to help you through the worst time of your life. Perhaps you really did think you’d moved on, though you were actually denying what David’s death would mean to you. The best way to show yourself that he no longer meant everything to you is to find another man who meant something to you.

Amanda: But I do love Sam. He wasn’t—isn’t—just a replacement. And anyway, he can’t be a replacement. He’s married.

Bertram: Yeah, there’s no getting around that. I mean, I could make him single, but then there’s no story. You’d go from David’s life to Sam’s. Period. No identity crisis. (Do they even call it that any more?) No coming-of-age story. No money problems.

Amanda: Sounds good to me. After all, I’m the one who has to go through all that turmoil and grief.

Bertram: Talking to you here, you don’t seem all that boring. Seems like an interesting story for those who are interested in this type of story. So what’s the problem? Why don’t I like you? Why don’t I identify with you?

Amanda: Maybe you’re putting too much of yourself into the story. It is my story, after all.

Bertram: So how do I take myself out? How do I make you seem like a living, breathing woman who is not as wimpy as she appears to be?

Amanda: Give me good characters to butt heads with. Thalia, my daughter, isn’t well defined. I’m not sure what purpose she serves other than to prove that I had a normal life.

Bertram: Hmm. Good point. She has to serve some purpose. Maybe she’s another way you define yourself—as a mother. And now that she’s grown, it just adds to your inner turmoil. But she’s been living on her own for a long time—first at college, and now in her own apartment with her own business.

Amanda: Pet therapist. What kind of business is that? She seems happy enough. Well, except for the part where her beloved father just died and her mother is carrying on with another man. She’s not real, though. It’s as if you were just filling a slot in the story: insert kid here.

Bertram: I was. I am. Maybe her whole reason for being is to give you someone to fight with. I mean, who else but a daughter would fight with a woman who just lost her husband? The problem is that it doesn’t reflect well on you. You have to be someone people sympathize with or else there is no story. It only works if readers care about you, and I don’t know how to do that.

Amanda: Maybe add more Sam. I’d like to see more of him. He makes me feel good. He says wonderful things to me, he makes me hot—or at least he did. My libido seems to have died when David did.

Bertram: But you two have never actually met. You used to spend hours online, though that’s dwindled—since his wife is getting better, he doesn’t have the privacy he had when you first met him. You talked about things you hadn’t talked about to anyone else, really opened up to each other, exchanged photos (even a couple of naked ones) but you’ve never even touched. So how do you know Sam loves you? How do you know you love him?

Amanda: Could that be part of the story? And how come I don’t have any friends?

Bertram: I don’t know. Maybe your friends with other preacher’s wives, but they’re as busy as you once were and have little time for you. That seems to be a growing theme in the story. David had no time for you—he became reclusive before he died. Thalia has no time for you. She’s busy with her work, and she’s angry at you. Sam doesn’t have much time for you now. And your friends have no time for you.

Amanda: That makes me seem pathetic. I don’t like feeling pathetic.

Bertram: I don’t much like it, either. A pathetic hero is not much of a hero. Maybe I should throw more trauma your way.

Amanda: As if losing my husband, losing my daughter, losing my home isn’t trauma enough.

Bertram: So we need to offset those losses with things you find—like the gun, like the photo of the other Thalia.

Amanda: Like Sam. I sure would like to get naked with him. Maybe you can plan a trip for me.

Bertram: I could do that. Then I could figure out a reason you couldn’t meet. Like his wife gets sick again or his car breaks down. Maybe you could drive by his house when he doesn’t show up for your rendezvous. Maybe you could see him outside and you like what you see, like how you gentle he is with his wife. But would that take away from the climax when you do meet?

Amanda: My climax or the story’s climax?

Bertram: Both.

Amanda: I like that.

Bertram: You would, you hussy.

Amanda: Not a hussy. Just a woman lost. A woman who doesn’t see herself as special, yet who manages to find two great loves. It was just fate’s joke that the two loves overlapped. Could be that was the only time I could have fallen in love. Before David got sick, I was focused on him, living our life together. After he died, I was focused on him, remembering our life together.

Bertram: That’s what I need—a few scenes showing you and David together. What would exemplify your love? You already admitted that yours wasn’t a passionate marriage, so there had to be something special about him that made you love him, something special about you that made him love you. Sacrifice would work, but since you were together all those years, you didn’t sacrifice your life for him. But maybe you sacrificed yourself? I’ll have to think about this.